"Failure to implement the final rule, and its welfare provisions, will lead to irremediable damage to consumer trust in the USDA Organic seal", warned Jesse Laflamme, a supporter of the OTA lawsuit and co-founder of Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, which partners with over more than family-owned farms in 14 states. After careful review and two rounds of public comment, USDA has determined that the rule exceeds the department's statutory authority, and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers.
"The existing robust organic livestock and poultry regulations are effective", said Greg Ibach, USDA Marketing and Regulatory Program Undersecretary.
The rule was passed in the final days of the Obama administration and was initially set to go into effect March 20, 2017. The USDA's ruling preserves the status quo, and fails to establish the USDA Organic label as the "gold standard" for organics that OLPP promised.
Last May, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, seeking to communicate his view of the agency's duty to the American people, said, "We owe it to the consumer to let them know we are concerned about their safety and the wholesomeness, nutritious capacity about the food they consume". Divergent farming practices within the fast-growing organic sector were causing confusion among shoppers and giving an economic advantage to egg producers who provided less space to their poultry, the agency said at the time.
"The vast majority of organic farmers that opt-in to organic certification strongly believe in providing their animals with sufficient space, meaningful outdoor access, proper lighting, appropriate diets, and clean conditions", says Harsh.
Championed throughout the organic industry-from farmers to consumer groups to retailers and animal-welfare advocates-the OLPP was intended as a course correction for the $43 billion food industry, formulated to bring organic dairy, eggs and meat production into line with consumer expectations of higher animal welfare.
"The Organic Trade Association will immediately amend the complaint to yet again challenge USDA's latest attempt to kill a rule that has been fully vetted over a decade".
Significant policy and legal issues were identified after the rule published in January 2017. We had some admission by the USDA that the industry had been camping out in their office bending their arms and their ears. "USDA is hoping this issue will go away, but this latest action by USDA will only invigorate and solidify more support for this regulation". USDA also recognizes that of those comments, only about 50 supported the withdrawal.
USDA delayed implementation twice after that and announced in December its intentions to withdraw the rule.
The rule refines and clarifies a series of organic animal welfare recommendations incorporated into the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established the federal organic regulations.
However, the porches meet USDA standards for producers of organic livestock to provide "year-round access for all animals to the outdoors".